Lil Wayne may have come into the Grammys with the most nominations, but the rapper had to settle for a handful of off-camera gramophones and the prime-time Best Rap Album trophy as the duo of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss dominated the night's major categories.
Though Coldplay came in with seven nominations, they also had to settle for a trio of awards. The Grammy-catnip hookup between the former Led Zeppelin singer and the bluegrass icon garnered five trophies, including Album of the Year.
The awards show featured a slew of amazing performances, as well as the noticeable absence of two nominated artists and expected performers, Rihanna and Chris Brown, who were scratched at the last minute following an alleged domestic incident, for which Brown turned himself in during the broadcast.
U2 opened the evening with Bono standing in front of a giant screen and telling the audience, "The future needs a big kiss!," and sing-rapping along to the spare groove of the band's new single "Get on Your Boots," as the Beatle-esque song's lyrics scrolled behind him. And, after a triumphant comeback performance the night before at the Clive Davis pre-Grammy gala, R&B diva Whitney Houston got a standing ovation (and showed some leg) while presenting the Best R&B Album award, which went to a stunned-looking Jennifer Hudson for her self-titled debut album.
The singer got a long hug from Houston and a standing ovation as she hoisted the award above her head. Overcome with emotion, her voice cracking, Hudson — whose Super Bowl performance last week was her first major public appearance since the murders of her mother, brother and nephew in October — thanked God "who has brought me through ... and my family, in heaven and those who are here today."
And, for most of the night, that was as emotional as it got during acceptance speeches. Unlike, say, the Oscars or Golden Globes, at the Grammys, the drama was not in the teary shout-outs to those who got the artists to the big stage; it was in the many performances that took up most of the evening's screen time, as well as the breaking news from the stage that Blink-182 were re-forming and that Green Day are calling their eagerly anticipated new album 21st Century Breakdown.
Among the highlights: Justin Timberlake took the stage with his Memphis hero, soul great the Reverend Al Green, collaborating on "Let's Stay Together" as Boyz II Men happily sang backup and Keith Urban added a tasty guitar solo.
Coldplay's Chris Martin crooned "Lost" at a piano by himself but was soon joined by his frequent collaborator and couples pal, Jay-Z. The MC laid down his verse from the remix, which, ironically, features the line "N---a sue you, you settle," delivered at the same event where the band was almost served with legal papers in Joe Satriani's copyright-infringement suit. Not content to rock softly, the entire band — dressed in candy-colored Sgt. Peppers-style jackets and pants — cranked it up for "Viva la Vida," the very uplifting anthem that Satriani brought the suit over.
Coldplay snagged the Song of the Year award for "Viva," with drummer Will Champion apologizing to Sir Paul McCartney "for blatantly recycling the Sgt. Pepper outfits." The guys didn't sit down for long, as they also snagged the Best Rock Album Grammy, beating out the Kings of Leon, Kid Rock, Metallica and the Raconteurs. The heavy competition inspired Martin to quip, "We're not, of course, the heaviest of rock bands, as you may have noticed. We're more of a sort-of limestone kind of rock: a little softer, but just as charming."
They were not so lucky in the coveted Record of the Year category, where "Viva" lost out to Plant and Krauss' "Please Read the Letter," also blowing M.I.A.'s hopes for taking home her first Grammy for "Paper Planes." With a pair of wins under their belts before the cameras started rolling, Plant and Krauss had already gotten their evening off to a good start by also beating out Madonna, Alicia Keys, Rihanna and Jordin Sparks in the Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals category for their song "Rich Woman."
Lil Wayne, joined by New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint on boogie-woogie piano and Robin Thicke lending his sugary vocals, paid tribute to his hometown with the somber "Tie My Hands," as images of Hurricane Katrina unspooled on the screens above the stage. The raucous performance ended with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and trumpet player Terence Blanchard playing a horn-blasted musical tribute to the Crescent City's jazz heritage, as Wayne scatted "feet don't fail me now, feet don't fail me now."
Waiting in the wings following his performance, Wayne, his jeans sagging, ran up on the stage to accept the Best Rap Album Grammy and kicked his heels together as he was joined by his daughter, members of his family and crew. "Thank God, thank New Orleans, thank these people you see right here, and thank you!" the clearly excited MC said, collecting his fourth Grammy of the night.
Carrie Underwood brought some serious attitude to "Last Name," wailing like an R&B diva as her band kicked in a couple of smoking solos and she worked the stage in a dangerously short gold-accented micro dress. Meanwhile, Kid Rock brought his country flair during a medley that included the ripped-from-the-headlines gritty gospel rocker "Amen" — accompanied by images of Chinese, American and Pakistani flags and one of Rock's mugshots — his massive hit "All Summer Long" and "Rock N Roll Jesus."
Stevie Wonder got in on some of T-Pain's vocal-blurring action, singing through a vocoder as he joined the Jonas Brothers for a funkafied run through their hit "Burning Up," which segued into his classic "Superstition," with guitar-slinging brothers Kevin and Nick flanking Wonder as he brought the tune home.
The brothers had to settle for good seats and working with a legend, though, as British soul singer Adele upset them in the Best New Artist category, after already winning Best Female Pop Vocal Performance earlier in the night. The soulful crooner was back a short time later to perform her signature tune "Chasing Pavements," doubling up with fellow Grammy winner Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland for a big finish.
Someone out there is kicking themselves for not thinking to hook Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift up for a duet before, as the teen divas made some perfect harmony on their duet of Swift's "Fifteen." But it was the slowly re-emerging Hudson who once again stole the show. Two spotlights aimed at her, Hudson strolled slowly onto the stage in a body-hugging black sequined dress, belting out the inspirational "You Pulled Me Through" as a swaying gospel choir emerged to back her up. The singer broke into tears as she ended the song, which drew her second standing ovation of the night as she lingered alone center stage savoring the love and support from her peers.
The unstoppably perky Katy Perry didn't disappoint, either, descending from a giant banana and wearing a fruit-themed fringed miniskirt as she flirted with her white tuxedo-wearing, shimmying backup dancers during "I Kissed a Girl." You could almost feel YouTube accounts exploding as Perry got playfully dragged across the stage by the dancers, who by mid-song had stripped off their shirts to reveal spangly silver bikini tops and then engaged in a six-on-one smooch to end the tune.
Maybe Kanye West had the same stylist, as he took the stage in a silver lamé jacket and black pants to sing "American Boy" with Estelle in the middle of the crowd. And no disrespect to Ringo, but Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl brought some added thunder to Coachella headliner Sir Paul McCartney's rip through "I Saw Her Standing There." McCartney had to stay seated during the Male Pop Vocal Performance presentation a short time later, as John Mayer's "Say" won out over songs by the former Beatle, Kid Rock, Ne-Yo, Jason Mraz and James Taylor.
Wearing black tights, high-tops and a black-and-white polka-dotted maternity bikini under a black body stocking, a nine-months pregnant M.I.A. acted oblivious to the fact that Sunday was her due date as she sang the hook and hung with the boys on "Swagga Like Us." She was surrounded by the tuxedo-wearing Mount Rushmore of rap, as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and T.I. laid down their verses on Tip's remix of her signature song "Paper Planes" for one of the most memorable and high-power hip-hop performances in Grammy history.
Sporting a shaggy 'do, normally subdued Radiohead singer Thom Yorke showed off some rock-star swagger as he strutted across the stage in a black leather jacket and tight black jeans as he led his band through "15 Step" with thundering syncopated accompaniment from the clearly amped members of the USC Trojan Marching Band. Nominated for six awards, Radiohead had to settle for the pre-telecast Best Alternative Music Album and Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition package for In Rainbows
T.I. and Justin Timberlake hit the stage again later in the show to re-create their collaboration on the King of the South's somber elegy to friends passed, "Dead and Gone." In his final performance before entering prison for gun charges, Tip, dressed all in black, gave a shout-out to the song's inspiration, his murdered friend Philant Johnson, as Timberlake crooned the hook while playing the piano and a battalion of bucket thumping percussionists laid down a funky beat. T.I. ended the riveting performance by intoning, "Adversity builds character, character will take you places money can't, welcome to my road to redemption," as he humbly hung his head.
Will Lil Wayne grab all the gramophones? Is Katy Perry going to tell her girl rivals to kiss off? Can Coldplay march off with a win? MTV News is all over the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, so stay tuned for interviews, analysis and more before, during and after the big night.